T. G. Masaryk
Against the Current, 1882–1914
H. Gordon SkillingIn this study, Gordon Skilling deals with Masaryk's pre-1914 career as a professor and permanent dissenter. Thomas G. Masaryk was a living combination of ideas and actions. As a philosopher he inspired practical work; as a politician he encouraged thinking. This duality, with its considerable impact on Czech and Central European developments, is aptly described and interpreted in Skilling's essays.
For thirty years Masaryk was a constant and unrelenting critic of conventional wisdom, established institutions, and customary practices in Bohemia and Austria-Hungary. Masaryk often found himself alone and suffered the blows of a hostile public opinion and official wrath. He displayed a rare example of civic courage. Although he did not openly advocate full state independence for the Czechs and Slovaks, he severely criticized the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and prepared the minds of his fellow citizens for the struggle for national freedom in World War I and for a democratic life after 1918.
Skilling's work is unusual in focusing on Masaryk's early career, and it seeks to interpret him in his contemporary proportions and not in terms of his subsequent life as a wartime leader in exile and as President of Czechoslovakia. Rather than providing a chronological account, it treats specific themes of his thought and activity. Skilling does not seek to exalt or disparage Masaryk, but rather to deal with him as objectively as possible. Unlike other works about Masaryk, it deals integrally with all aspects of his prewar life. It discusses his political theory and his practical work as a party leader, but goes beyond politics to his views on scholarship, Czech history, religion, anti-Semitism, nationality, Czech-Slovak relations, foreign policy, the social question, and the place of women.
H. Gordon Skilling is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto, former director of the Center for Russia and East Europe, and author of numerous books on Eastern Europe, including most recently Samizdat and an Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe (1989).